8 Celebrities Arrested for Obscenity (and What It Was They Said or Did)
Freedom of speech? Not if it’s deemed “obscene.” These celebrities found that out the hard way. Though they weren’t all convicted, they did end up fighting costly battles in court and had their names dragged through the mud, though in some cases – looking at you, Hugh Hefner – it only helped their causes. Read on for lots of obscene material.
1. If you’re going strictly by his arrest record, comedian Lenny Bruce is the King of Obscenity. From 1961 to 1964, Bruce was arrested four times for using all kinds of salty language. Arrest #1 was made on October 4, 1961, at the Jazz Workshop in San Francisco, after he used the word “c***sucker” in a show and also did a bit called “To is a Preposition; Come is a Verb.” Though he was acquitted, law enforcement started keeping a close eye on him, which resulted in arrest #2 for his use of the word “schmuck,” the Yiddish word for penis. Arrests #3 and #4 both happened at the Cafe Au Go Go in Greenwich Village in April 1964, where undercover agents said he used more than 100 obscene words. In 2003, New York Governor George Pataki posthumously pardoned Bruce for the last two charges.
2. You know who also got arrested at Lenny Bruce’s “Schmuck” performance? George Carlin. Cops IDed everyone in the audience, and when they got to a young Carlin, he told them he didn’t believe in government IDs. He was hauled down to the station in the same wagon as Bruce. No doubt Carlin was a bit proud when he was slapped with an obscenity charge of his very own for performing his famous “Seven Dirty Words” routine in Milwaukee in 1972.
3. Obscenity charges certainly didn’t start with the comedy scene of the ‘60s. Bawdy Mae West was sentenced to 10 days in jail for a play she wrote, produced, directed and starred in. It was called Sex, and it was deemed too steamy for 1927 audiences. West served eight days before she was released; she later bragged that the warden let her wear her own silk underwear instead of the scratchy prison issue ones.
4. When you see the Playboy Bunny logo on everything from casinos to reality shows, it’s almost hard to imagine that Hugh Hefner’s mag was once reviled. The magazine had been published for a decade (though not without complaint) before Hef was arrested on obscenity charges relating to a particularly racy photo shoot featuring Jayne Mansfield. Hef showed up at his trial with a Playmate on his arm and testified that only 5% of the magazine was dedicated to nude or semi-nude women, and that everyone basically just needed to chill out. A jury acquitted him 7-5.
5. The Doors’ Jim Morrison was charged with obscenity (“open profanity”) and indecent exposure in 1969 after he allegedly asked a Miami audience if they wanted to see what was in his pants. He then unzipped them and proceeded to simulate some rather rude things. Several of George Carlin’s Seven Dirty Words were used. Morrison was arrested several days later and was sentenced to six months in jail after being found guilty at the ensuing trial. He appealed and was released on a $50,000 bond. Morrison was posthumously pardoned in 2010 by the Florida Board of Executive Clemency.
6. 2 Live Crew faced obscenity charges in 1990 when police officers brought tape recorders to one of their shows in Fort Lauderdale. The two-week trial was a bit ridiculous; the main evidence was a recording of such low quality that the lyrics were totally unintelligible. The jury ultimately found for the group.
7. Jim Morrison didn’t have a monopoly on lewd onstage activities. Wendy O. Williams of the punk band the Plasmatics was arrested on January 28, 1981, for getting a little too frisky with a sledgehammer in front of her audience. Shortly thereafter, Williams performed topless in Cleveland, wearing only electrical tape and shaving cream to cover the “obscene” bits. It didn’t stop Cleveland law enforcement from slapping her with another obscenity charge.
8. Less than a year after Bobby Brown and Whitney Houston got married in 1992, Brown was cited in Augusta, Georgia, for “simulated intercourse in a bed on stage during the fifth song of a recent concert.”
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